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SMVDSB, J&K State and Indian govt. has made secure traveling, free and paid facilities for the benefit of devotees.
Facilities at Katra:
Katra serves as the base camp for the Yatra (pilgrimage). It is also the point where yatries (pilgrims) halt for a while and make preparations for the trek to the Holy Shrine. In order to cater to the requirements of the yatries, a wide variety of facilities are available in and around Katra.
Registering for the Yatra
This is the the first and foremost thing to do after reaching Katra
All visitors are required to register themselves before undertaking the trek. This is done at the Yatra Registration Counter (YRC) situated at the Bus Stand where the registered yatris are issued a Yatra Slip, free of cost. This is a mandatory requirement and without a valid Yatra Slip pilgrims are not allowed to proceed beyond Yatra Parchi Check Counter at Banganga. This is necessary to regulate the Yatra at Bhawan and also on the track. This Yatra Slip is to be preserved as the same covers devotees with an insurance cover against any untoward incidents.
Shrine Board offers FREE basic accommodation for yatries. This accommodation is available in Niharika complex and near Yatra Parchi counter II (YRC-II). Besides accommodation, blankets are also provided free of cost.
SMVDSB provides clean, well maintained and very economical accommodation at Niharika Yatri Niwas and Shakti Bhawan situated at bus stand, Katra. Rooms, both air conditioned and Non air conditioned are available. In addition, dormitory accommodation at nominal rates is available in Shakti Bhawan (Niharika complex). In all the accommodation facilities provided by Shrine Board, there is an additional facility of a hygienic, no profit no loss Bhojanalayas, Souvenir Shop and a free cloak room. Free parking of private vehicles is also allowed.
Accommodation for all Shrine Board Guest houses/dormitories can be booked (subject to availability) at the reception of these guest houses or at the Enquiry and Reservation counter at Niharika complex. Advance reservation is possible by sending a demand draft of the required amount to the Chief Executive Officer/Dy, Manager (E&R) payable at Katra.
Other Accommodation FacilitiesThere are various Sarais/Dharamshalas (Choultries) in Katra, which provide good accommodation to the pilgrims, either free of cost or at a nominal price. While some of them do provide facilities to the pilgrims, many of these places have passed in the hands of certain people with vested interests who insist on the pilgrims buying offerings from their own shops located in the premises of these Sarais. Pilgrims should be careful of such elements as they tend to sell items at a price many times higher than their original value.
There are various lodges, Guest Houses, ordinary and luxury hotels, Cottages, Resorts and all types of accommodation facilities available too, which provide accommodation to the devotees. Pilgrims have a wide range to choose from depending upon their taste and budget.
Food and Refreshment
Katra has all types of vegetarian restaurants and dining places. Being a religious place, almost all these restaurants and catering outlets provide pure vegetarian food to the pilgrims in which even onion and garlic is not used. Pilgrims are also requested to preserve and uphold the sanctity of the Holy place and desist from demanding non vegetarian meals or alcohol from any outlets.
Parking of Private Vehicles
Sufficient parking spaces are available in and around Katra. Other than the general bus stand, chartered and private buses can be parked at the second bus stand near Yatra Registration Counter No.2 located on Udhampur road. The Shrine Board provides free parking facility in its various complexes. This facility is however open only to bona fide users of the complexes.
Cloak Room Facility
Considering that many yatries would like to leave behind their excess luggage in Katra before undertaking the Yatra, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board has provided for free cloak room facility in all its guest houses/ lodging places. Cloak room facility is also offered by many hotels and lodges. Certain private Sarais, shops and establishments also claim to offer such facilities but yatries are advised to reassure themselves of the credentials of the service provider before entrusting their luggage to them. In particular, video cameras and mobile phones, besides other electronic equipment are not allowed on the track for security reasons. Yatries must make adequate arrangement for the safe keeping of such equipments before embarking on the yatra.
A computerized Railway Reservation Counter has been opened in the Niharika complex near the main bus stand. Through this Railway Reservation facility, reservations to and from any railway station can be now availed of at this counter. The infrastructural and logistical support to this Center is being provided by Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board.
BSNL and operators provide good mobile communication towers with 2G/3G and also STD/ISD/PCO booths function all over Katra, along the rack and right up till Bhawan. A few of them are open for all 24 hours. Post facilities are also available at Katra, Adkuwari and Bhawan. Katra also has a Speed Post facility to/from major destinations. A few cyber cafes are also functional.
Souvenirs and Publications
Those who wish to purchase Souvenirs and momentos may do so from the Souvenir Shops of the Shrine Board, located at Katra. Various kinds of Prashad, cassettes, books, chunnies and cholas are available on no profit basis. Similar outlets are also available at Bhawan, Sanjichhat, Adkuwari and Vaishnavi Dham at Jammu.
There is a Police station at Katra as well as Bhawan, besides police posts at Banganga and Adkuwari.
Many nationalized banks have their branches and ATM facilities at Katra & Bhawan.
While no specific medical certificate is needed to undertake the Yatra, those suffering from heart, breathing or similar ailments are advised to proceed with the Yatra only after due medical checkup and advice. Cardiac, asthmatic and orthopedic problems are known to get aggravated due to the strenuous climb. To the medical needs of the yatries there is a block hospital at Katra as well as a 24 hours charitable dispensary run under the aegis of the Shrine Board. Emergency needs can be taken care of by basic medical facilities at Banganga, Adkuwari, Sanjichhat and Bhawan. Oxygen cylinders and emergency drugs are also available. Specialized and advanced medical treatment is however available only at Jammu.
Facilities at Bhawan
In addition to the facility of rented rooms, there are a number of large halls which are available for the yatries. This accommodation is free of cost and is made available on a first-come-first-served basis. No booking or permission is required for using these premises since they are kept open round the clock and yatries can just go and occupy them subject to availability.
Self contained and furnished rooms are available on rent for the yatries at the Main Bhawan complex as well as Gauri and Vaishnavi Bhawan complexes. Dormitory accommodation is also available at Manokamna Bhawan complex. This accommodation can be booked from the Enquiry and Reservation section, Niharika complex at Katra. Since the number of rented rooms at Bhawan is limited, yatries are advised to suitably plan their journey and get the bookings of the rooms done in advance from the Enquiry and Reservation section. This can be done by sending a Demand Draft of the requisite amount in the name of Chief Executive Officer Shri Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine Board, Katra payable at Katra.
The facility of on line booking is also available through our online services module. In case of availability spot booking is also possible at the reception counters of the respective Bhawans. However, it has been generally experienced that most of the rooms/beds are booked in advance and the probability of obtaining a spot booking is usually not very high.
Food and RefreshmentThe Shrine Board runs Bhojanalyas at Main Bhawan complex and Manokamna Bhawan complex. These Bhojanalyas provide wholesome vegetarian food to the pilgrims on a no profit basis. Because of the Board’s policy of running all its units on a no profit basis, all the items are available here are not only cheap and affordable but also of excellent quality. The Bhojanalyas at Bhawan run round the clock and serve a varied but traditional menu. In addition to full meals, packed snacks, beverages, mineral water and milk etc. are also available here. For the convenience of the pilgrims, hot and cold beverage dispensers have been installed at various strategic locations .These units are operated through the respective companies and sell quality products at printed rates.
Medical facilities are available for the yatries at Bhawan. A medical unit run by the Shrine Board is located at the Bhawan complex. All these medical units are equipped with necessary medicines and emergency provisions including oxygen cylinders and are manned by trained staff and medical officers. An Intensive care Unit (ICU) is also functional at the Bhawan complex. Emergency equipment has also been made available. However sustained or advanced treatment can only be made available at Jammu.
In addition, various other facilities including free toilet facilities, drinking water, enquiry and announcement booths are available all through the Bhawan Complex. STD/PCOs, Bank branches, a Police Station and a post office is also functional. There is also a small market complex where toiletries, medicines, eatables and other utility items are available. Fair price Bhaint shops selling Prashad and Souvenir shops selling photographs and cassettes are also located inside this market complex. It is reiterated that all establishments of the Board are run on a no profit basis and yatries can be sure of the quality and prices of goods offered in these establishments.
The Holy cave is situated at a height of 5200 ft above sea level. Even during summers, the nights are cool. Yatries would normally require the use of blankets at night. The Shrine Board has arranged for free blanket stores at various locations. For a nominal and refundable security deposit, yatries are issued blankets for the night. Blanket stores are located at various convenient locations and as already mentioned, the service is entirely free of charge. The security obtained from the yatri is refunded, once the blanket is returned. Pilgrims are advised to obtained proper receipts for every financial transaction.
Free cloak room facilities are available at Bhawan. These cloak rooms are functional round the clock. There is a cloak room located just opposite to the main queue complex (gate No.1). This cloak room can be used for depositing shoes, belts, combs and all other items that are not allowed in the Holy cave. In addition, another cloak room is functional in Sridhar Bhawan. Yatries can deposit their entire luggage here before proceeding for Darshans. However, yatries are advised not to keep their cash, jewellery, valuables or electronic items amongst the deposited luggage. All cloak room facilities are absolutely free of cost.
Officials Present at Bhawan
The Shrine Board has posted various levels of officers including senior officers at all important locations including Bhawan. Yatries are welcome to contact any of them for advice or assistance. While most of the issues can be resolved at the assistance or announcement booths, officers of the Board are readily available for help or aid. In particular, for the Bhawan area, assistance is available in the office of Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) or Sr. Manager or Assistant Manager situated at Room no. 4 or Room No.8, Kalika Bhawan.
Bhaint (Offerings) Shop
As already mentioned, offerings to the Holy Goddess are restricted to a very few articles. This has been done in view of security constraints and limitation of the Darshan time inside the Sanctum Sanctorum. However, traditional offerings called Bhaints continue to be allowed. A Bhaint comprises of the traditional offerings which are offered to the Holy Goddess and include Prashad fullian, makhana, Chunni, mouli, coconut, Pooja samagri including Itra, Bangles and Sindoor.
However, one need not purchase and carry the Bhaint Prashad to be offered to the Holy Goddess from Katra itself. For convenience of the pilgrims, the Shrine Board operates a Bhaint shop at Bhawan where beautifully packed Bhaints in eco-friendly jute bags are available at reasonable rates.
The Shrine Board is currently trying to explore the possibility of providing yatries with pure silver chatters of various denominations of guaranteed purity. It is expected that these shall shortly become available at the Bhaint shop to facilitate such yatries as would like to offer chatters to Mother Goddess. Bhaints of higher denominations are also likely to be introduced shortly.
For yatries who wish to carry with them mementos of the great pilgrimage, the Shrine Board operates Souvenir Shops at Bhawan, Sanjichhat, Adkuwari, Katra bus stand, Trikuta Bhawan and at Vaishnavi Dham (Jammu). Chunris, Cholas, Saris, shawls which have been offered to the Holy Goddess are available for sale at these Souvenir Shops at nominal prices. Pilgrims can purchase them and preserve them as souvenirs or can place them at the place of worship inside their houses.
Besides, other exclusive items available at the Souvenir Shops include, audio cassettes, CDs, various publications of Shrine Board, laminated photos of the Holy Pindies, Jute Bags, Bangle Chura etc. Yatries may take notice that all these items are exclusively available at the Souvenir Shops of Shrine Board and are not available at any of the private shops.
The Shrine Board has developed Gold and Silver coins of guaranteed purity. These coins carry an impression of the Holy Pindies and are made of Gold or Silver offered at the feet of the Goddess. These coins are available on request from the local branch of J&K Bank. The rates of the coins depend on the denomination chosen and the prevailing gold/silver rates.